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What Is Whole-Body Vibration?

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  • Written By: Dan Harkins
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Images By: Noel Powell, Naj, n/a
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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Whole-body vibration (WBV) gained credibility in the 1960s due to its use in space exploration to keep astronauts' muscles fit during long periods without gravity. Though not recommended as a complete replacement for a healthy diet and exercise regimen, several studies since then have confirmed the effectiveness of targeted pulse vibration in building bone and muscle mass. Many reputable fitness companies manufacture exercise machines in 2011 that employ this potentially muscle-building technology.

The first official substantiation of whole-body vibration was performed by Russian aerospace engineer Vladimir Nazarov in the 1960s, which followed up early scientific research in East Germany. Astronauts preparing for space as well as professional and Olympic athletes were exposed to regular biomechanical vibrations. These vibrations continued to stimulate muscle fibers and bone marrow production, even in the absence of gravity and regular exercise.

Some evidence points to ancient Greece as the birthplace of whole-body vibration. The modern advent can be credited to John Kellogg, a holistic physician practicing at the end of the 19th century. Featured among the colonic, fitness and herbal remedies In Kellogg's Battle Creek, Michigan, sanitarium were several devices that applied vibration to various parts of the body. Kellogg is immortalized in the 1993 book The Road to Wellville, by T.C. Boyle, and in a movie by the same title starring Anthony Hopkins, released in 1994.

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All the world's major space agencies have studied whole-body vibration and made it a part of astronauts' fitness regimens, prior to and during space station stints. Muscular atrophy that is suffered by astronauts is stunted by biomechanical exercise that sends pulses of vibrations into various muscle groups being moved. According to the research, using this technology has opened the door to more prolonged space missions. Ordinary fitness studies have found similar success. For example, a 2005 New Zealand study of field hockey athletes revealed that workouts including regular stints of biomechanical vibration were successful in producing athletes with greater targeted strength and flexibility.

Aside from its potential for muscle and bone growth, some of the research into whole-body vibration indicates successful clinical uses too. Studies hint at lessened amounts of bone loss in the elderly. Problems with balance and intramuscular pain also could be improved by a regimen of vibrational spasms. Studies also have substantiated anecdotal evidence that mechanic impulses can help reduce the amount of adipose tissue forming in the body as well as increase the level of hormones normally emitted during traditional gravity-based exercises. Devices are manufactured and marketed in two directions — those interested in reducing pain and the effects of aging, and those looking to build muscle mass.

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